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What makes a hero?

 Published on: 2nd July 2013   |   By: Nik Allen

julia nash

Pete and Julia Nash at the My Local Hero awards ceremony in 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes a hero (I am in the process of organising an awards night for heroes in my area). The best explanation I have come across so far came from Christopher Reeve.

“I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Reeve, tall, dashing and athletic, was the actor who played the ultimate hero, Superman, on the big screen.  He went on to become a real life hero when, at the age of 43, he became a quadriplegic after a horseriding accident.

He spent the next ten years of his life campaigning for people with spinal cord injuries.

Reeve’s heroism has been well documented. But the work of many like him often falls under the radar. Every day charity workers, carers, teachers, mums and dads do extraordinary things. They don’t get any recognition, but then that is not why they do it.

I am reminded of all this because I am currently organising the My Local Hero 2013 Awards (to recognise the amazing achievements of people in South West Hertfordshire).

The process has made me think back to a similar event I organised in 2009.

The My Local Hero 2009 was one of the proudest moments of my life, because it gave a group of incredible people the chance to tell their stories. And I (and the 300 other people at the event) felt privileged to hear them.

The nominees and eventual winners at the 2009 event were people who perfectly matched Reeve’s description of “ordinary people” battling tremendous obstacles.

Among those was Emma Moorcroft from Abbots Langley.  Emma has dedicated her life to ensure her daughter Sian, who has a severe muscle and spine disorder, was named Parent of the Year.

When Emma was told that her beautiful blue-eyed girl would never walk or stand, and was unlikely to live past six, she picked up her baby and fled the hospital.

That could have been where the story ended, with Emma totally defeated. But in fact that is where it started. Emma pulled herself together and dedicated herself to making sure Sian has the best of quality of life.

Sian has defied the odds, thanks in part to her brave mother and a number of risky spinal operations, and is now eight and a happy successful pupil at a local school.

The overall winner on the night was Julia Nash – another inspirational woman. Julia and her husband Pete, a fit and healthy sports fan, were busy raising their three boys when he was diagnosed with Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM).

This rare condition, a tangle of abnormal blood vessels, meant Pete could not work or play with his children. There was a risk the AVM could claim his life at any moment.

Initially doctors said there was nothing they could do. But Julia and Pete weren’t prepared to accept that, so they sought further medical opinion.

They found a doctor in Bristol who believed he could operate and remove the AVM. However there was a catch: the operation was risky and expensive and the NHS refused to pay for it.

Julia, a nail technician who had been forced to stop work to care for Pete (while the debts mounted), threw everything she had into raising the £60,000 needed for the operation.

What followed, with the help of friends and family, was a series of fundraisers -jumble sales, leg waxes, cake sales and fun runs.

Eventually Julia managed to reach her fundraising total and Pete underwent the operation (no thanks to the NHS). It was a success and he now leads a full and active life thanks in no small part to the tenacity of his wife.

I am looking forward to hearing the stories of more local heroes in the coming months, and to seeing their efforts celebrated at Watford Hilton on Friday, November 15.

If you know of someone in South West Herts who is a local hero, or if you would like to attend the ceremony, please get in touch. Tickets to the event are £60 per head and any profits raised with go to the Peace Hospice.

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